Old Opera Cremes Recipe

Opera Cremes

I recently flipped through the pages of the October, 1915 issue of Good Housekeeping and came across this recipe for Opera Cremes. This beautiful, delectable treat is one of the best homemade candies I’ve ever made. The pecans and creamy sweetness blend wonderfully to create a decadent taste sensation.

I don’t know for sure why they are called Opera Cremes, but I do know that a hundred years ago almost every town—even small ones– had an opera house.

When my grandmother was a teen in central Pennsylvania, she sometimes mentioned going to the opera house in Watsontown in her diary. For example, on February 28, 1914 she wrote:

Ruth and I went up to Watsontown with Pa this evening. The senior class gave their play in the opera house. Was the best one I ever was to. Some parts certainly did call forth plenty of laughter. Can hardly begin to describe how much I enjoyed it.

Helena Muffly

Hmm . . . maybe between their laughs, they found time to enjoy a few Opera Cremes.

Opera Creams

3 cups sugar

1 cup cream

1/3 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 cup chopped pecans

approximately 4 dozen whole pecan halves

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

confectioners’ sugar

In a medium saucepan, stir together sugar, cream, and cream of tartar until well blended. Using medium heat, bring to a boil. Reduce to low, and cook about 7 minutes without stirring until a very soft ball (237 degrees F.) is formed when tried in cold water. Remove from the heat.

Allow to cool for a few minutes. When tepid, stir in the vanilla and beat until creamy, then turn out on a board that is slightly dredged with confectioners’ sugar, and knead until smooth, working in the chopped pecans at the same time. Spread out in a shallow buttered pan, press on the pecan halves. Cool and cut into squares. Can also be shaped into bonbons.

Shh .. . .  don’t tell my friends, but I’m already planning to make Opera Cremes again in December to give as gifts.

Old-fashioned Black Walnut Taffy Recipe

18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Monday, December 22, 1913:  Carrie was over this afternoon. We picked out nuts. Made taffy this evening, but it didn’t get good and the nuts were wasted.

Grandma had problems, but my taffy turned out great.
Grandma had problems, but my taffy turned out great.
The taffy before I wrapped it.
The taffy before I wrapped it.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Hmm. . . What kind of taffy did Grandma and her friend Carrie Stout make? . . . Maybe they picked black walnuts out of the shells and then made Black Walnut Taffy.

I decided to give it a try. . . and held my breath. My husband and I cracked, and picked out, some black walnuts last week-end. It was a lot of work—and I really hoped that I’d be more successful making the candy than Grandma was.

Old-fashioned Black Walnut Taffy

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup molasses

1/2 cup water

1 1/2 tablespoons vinegar

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

4 tablespoons butter

1/8 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup finely chopped black walnuts

Combine sugar, molasses, water, and vinegar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat.  Stir in cream of tartar. Reduce heat and continue to boil until the mixture reaches the hard ball stage (256 degrees on a candy thermometer).

Remove from heat. Stir in butter and baking soda; then stir in the black walnuts.  Pour onto a well-buttered plate or shallow bowl.

As the candy cools along the sides fold into the center.

When cool enough to handle, coat hands with butter,  pull the candy using hands until color lightens, and it becomes airier and less sticky.

Shape into strips approximately 3/4 to 1 inch in diameter, and place on wax paper that has been placed on a cookie sheet.  Chill slightly, then cut the candy into bit-sized pieces.

Cut rectangles of waxed paper approximately 2 inches X 4 inches. Wrap the candy in the waxed paper and twist ends.

The taffy turned out wonderfully. The two intense flavors– molasses and black walnut—merged to a more nuanced, but awesome, taste sensation.  I highly recommend this taffy.

Here are the links to two previous posts that you might enjoy:

How to Crack Black Walnuts

Old-fashioned Sugar Taffy 

Old-Fashioned Chocolate-Covered Coconut Egg Recipe

18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Saturday, March 22, 1913: Didn’t do so very much today.

DSC07232Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

In 1913 Easter was on March 23, so this was the day before Easter. Did the Muffly’s make Chocolate-Covered Coconut Eggs?

It was an Easter tradition when I was a child to make Chocolate-Covered Coconut Eggs. We’d start with a coconut and first tap holes with a nail and drain the coconut milk—and then break the coconut apart and get the meat out. We used an old metal grinder to grate the coconut.

DSC07224The freshly grated coconut and coconut milk gives the candy a wonderfully fresh taste.

Chocolate-Covered Coconut Eggs

3 pounds confectioners’ sugar

1/2 pound grated fresh coconut

1/4 pound butter, softened

2 teaspoons vanilla

coconut milk

melted confectioners’ chocolate*

Combine all ingredients except chocolate. Add just enough coconut milk to make a soft dough; shape into small eggs and place on cookie sheets or plates that have been covered with waxed paper. Let dry overnight. Coat with melted chocolate. Store in refrigerator.

*Coating can be made by melting and stirring together 1/4 pound paraffin and 1 pound sweet chocolate

Makes approximately 50 pieces of candy.

Old Honey Candy Recipe

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Friday, March 7, 1913: Ruth and I went to a candy box social up at Smith’s School House tonight. We walked up but rode home with her cavalier.


Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Whew, it must have been a  2 or 3 mile walk to Smith School. I think that the school was located  out in the country near the intersection of Vincent Road and 8th Street Drive.

This was the third time that a box social has been mentioned in 1913. They must have been really popular back then. It sounds like the box social went well for Grandma’s sister Ruth. I wonder who got Grandma’s box of candy.

What kinds of candy did the Grandma and Ruth make? Here’s an old recipe for Honey Candy that I found in the December, 1912 issue of Ladies Home Journal.

Honey Candy

One quart of honey, three heaping teaspoonfuls of butter, two tablespoonfuls of vinegar, half a teaspoonful of baking soda, and two teaspoonfuls of lemon extract. Put the honey, butter, and vinegar into a saucepan, and boil until the mixture will harden when dropped into cold water; then stir in the baking soda and the lemon extract. Pour into a buttered tin to cool. When half cold mark into squares and when cold break apart.

The candy turned out well, but has a different taste from the typical corn syrup-based hard candy of today. It is a rich buttery hard candy with concentrated honey undertones. It’s the perfect candy to satisfy my sweet tooth–without making me want to eat a second piece.

This mixture boils at a low temperature. Most of the time, I had it on the low setting on my stove to keep it from boiling over.

It takes a long time to get the boiling mixture to the hard crack stage (300 degrees). I boiled it for about 1 1/2 hours.

You may also enjoy these previous posts with old candy recipes:

Old-fashioned Sugar Taffy Recipe

Old Cocoa Fudge Recipe

1911 Chocolate Fudge Recipes

Old-fashioned Butterscotch Recipe

Old-fashioned  Coffee Candy Recipe

Sour Cream Fudge

Old-fashioned Coffee Candy Recipe

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Saturday, December 21, 1912:  Had quite a time putting things in order this morning, but how long they will stay that way I can’t tell. Ruth made some Christmas candy this afternoon.


Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

What kind of candy did Grandma’s sister Ruth make? . . .Maybe old-fashioned Coffee Candy? . . . Dare I suggest it? . . . I tried making Coffee Candy last December and it was a disaster that crumbled into tiny pieces. (See Interpreting Old Recipes: The Case of Coffee Candy.)

Usually when I have a cooking failure I never make the recipe again. But, bolstered by everyone’s comments and suggestions last year, I decided to give it another try.

I made some adaptations to the recipe I used last year. Here’s what I did:

Old-fashioned Coffee Candy

Boil together over moderate heat, without stirring, one-half cup strong coffee, two tablespoons butter, and two cups sugar. Boil to soft ball stage (238 degrees).  Remove the pan from stove. Beat rapidly until it creams. Stir in a cup of chopped walnuts, press firmly into a buttered pan and cut into squares. (I used a 6 1/2-inch square pan.)

This Coffee Candy turned out much better this year. It had a nice coffee flavor, and a texture similar to pralines. It still had a slight tendency to crumble when I cut it, but most pieces came out of the pan just fine.

Sour Cream Fudge

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Thursday, February 15, 1912:  I believe I have forgotten what I did today. Nothing unusual any way.Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Since Grandma didn’t write much today, I’ll give you an old-time candy recipe for Sour Cream Fudge.

Sour Cream Fudge

1 cup sugar

1 cup brown sugar

3/4 cup sour cream

1 1/4 cups butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup chopped walnuts

Combine sugar and sour cream.  Stir while heating over a low temperature until the sugar is dissolved.  Add butter and continue stirring until it is melted. Quit stirring and bring to a slow boil. Continue boiling until candy reaches the soft ball stage (235-240 degrees F.). Remove from heat, beating it while it cools. Add vanilla and nuts. Pour into greased pan.

Sour Cream Fudge has a rich, buttery flavor.

Patience is key to successfully making Sour Cream Fudge. I was surprised how long I needed to cook this candy.  It takes a long time to reach the soft ball stage—I think that it took more than an hour.

Old-Fashioned Butterscotch Recipe

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Wednesday, December 13, 1911: Must keep at my lessons in the evening or else get growling at school Got my report today. It isn’t so very great. Ruthie treated us to candy this evening. She is going to treat her kids and had to treat us also while she was getting it divided up.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Grandma’s sister Ruth as a teacher at a one-room school house near McEwensville, and she must have been going to give her students candy as a Christmas gift. (The holiday break was longer back then—and students didn’t have school for the last two weeks of December).

Two days ago the diary entry said that Ruth made candy. I wonder how many types of candy she made–and then divided amongst her students (and family members).

Maybe she made old-fashioned Butterscotch. It isn’t anything like the artificially colored orange butterscotch disks that they make today—rather it is similar to Werthers Original Candy.


1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup water

1 teaspoon vinegar

2 tablespoons butter

Stir to combine all ingredients in a pan and bring to a boil using a medium heat.  Once the sugar has melted, quit stirring.  Reduce heat to a level where the mixture steadily boils. Boil until it becomes brittle when a little is dropped in cold water. Pour into a buttered dish (I used a 7” X 7” dish). When the candy is partially cooled (semi-solid) score with a knife. After the candy is completely cooled remove from dish and break into pieces.